by Reena Sigman Friedman

How was this Passover Different from All Other Passovers

Looking back on the Seders, most women remember cooking and serving. ("For this we came out of Egypt?") But a growing number of women have gone beyond merely enabling their men to conduct the Seder.

Edited by Reena Friedman 

By some members of the Jewish community. In an effort to overcome this clash of interests, the idea of the “third night feminist seder” has evolved.

The experiences of this past Pesach suggest numerous opportunities for change, with respect to both women’s participation in the seder and the material of the haggadah itself. A variety of possibilities are offered by the authors of excerpts below, arranged according to the structure of the traditional haggadah. The new haggadahs must not, however, be regarded as the final word. There is much room for experimentation in a number of areas; the “Hallel” (Songs of Praise) section of the haggadah is one example. The process of change must be ongoing if the sederis to remain as vital a Jewish experience in the future as it has been in the past.

Lighting the Candles

The Berkeley haggadah inserted a recitation of Hannah Senesh’s poem, “Blessed is the Match,” before the lighting of the Passover candles. (This translation from the Hebrew is from the Los Angeles haggadah.)

Blessed the match that was burned
And ignited flames I
Blessed the flame that blazed up
In the secret places of the heart.
Blessed the heart that throbbed its
last beat in honor.
Blessed the match that was burned and
ignited flames.

Karpas (Greens)

Aviva Cantor Zuckoff, New York, said the following upon dipping the karpas, a leafy green vegetable, into the salt water:

Why do we dip the karpas, this leafy green vegetable which symbolizes growth, the renewal of life that comes with liberation, into a bowl of salty water, which represents the tears we shed under oppression and slavery? We do this to reaffirm that to liberate ourselves fully, we first have to touch the depths of our suffering and bitterness and to share our tears with each Other just as we share the salt water tonight. Chinese women called this “speaking bitterness.”

Bread of Affliction

The Brooklyn seder added these words:

This is matzah, the bread of rebellion that our foremothers baked and ate in a time when they had to be organizing more and cooking less. We eat it to remind ourselves that, like our foremothers, we can and will overcome our bondage—that we and our sisters and our daughters will be free women.

We Were Slaves in Egypt

Batya Bauman conducted her annual seder for Jewish and non-Jewish women at a retreat in upstate New York. She added the following words after “We were slaves.,. “:

Just as ancient Israel gave up the security of Egyptian bondage and went forth into a hostile desert for the sake of freedom, many lesbians are emerging from the bondage of secrecy and pretension to openness and freedom to be oneself at all times, even in a hostile environment. One may have momentary yearnings for the security of the closet, just as the Jews in the desert had yearnings to return to the security of their former state. Freedom has a price. But freedom to live in dignity is worth the price.

She Who Stood Fast

Ve’hee she’amda can be translated as: “And it was she who stood fast for our ancestors and for us. ” Several haggadahs, among them the Chicago seder, recall the bravery of Jewish women in all ages, beginning with the two midwives, Shifra and Pu’ah in Egypt:

Pharaoh, in the time-honored pattern of oppressors, tried to get Jews to collaborate in murdering their own people. He summoned Shifra and Pu’ah and commanded them to kill newborn Jewish males at birth and to report the birth of Jewish females so they could be raised as prostitutes….The midwives did not carry out Pharaoh’s command. Instead of murdering the infants, they took special care of them. When Pharaoh demanded an accounting, the midwives said that the Jewish women gave birth before they arrived.

The Ten Plagues

The Los Angeles haggadah looks at each plague as a symbol of “the terrible and awesome things visited upon our fore-mothers, sisters and ourselves.” For example:

Darkness—One of the most destructive factors in our herstory is the plague of darkness—the darkness we were kept in, [ignorance] of our Jewish tradition and history…. We have been kept in darkness about our foremothers and their strengths, of [knowledge].,, of women of independence who did not live traditionally-sanctioned lifestyles….

It Would (Not) Have Sufficed Us

The Broner/Nimrod haggadah rewrote the Dayenu to read Lo Dayenu, “it would not have sufficed us”: In this haggadah, the language is changed, with the She-chena (the feminine aspect of God) substituted for the traditional male references to divinity.

If the Shechena had brought us forth from bondage and had not educated us, it would not have sufficed us.

If She had educated us and had not given us opportunity to work, it would not have sufficed us.

If She had given us opportunity to work and not allowed us to advance, lo dayenu.

If we were allowed to advance at work but had to perform housewifely duties as well, lo dayenu. If we were helped by our families but hindered by civil law, lo dayenu.

If we were aided by rabbinical decree and treated with dignity, dayenudayenu, it suffices us.

When Israel Came Out of Egypt

Lucy Y. Steinitz, Chicago, suggested that Miriam be included in the haggadah. The Broner/Nimrod haggadah tells of Miriam’s role in the Exodus:

When… it was time for the Exodus, Miriam sang and danced her people to victory The House of Israel sang a song of freedom to the sound of Miriam’s tambourine. The women gathered around her and they mocked those who cried… “We would rather be slaves to the Egyptians than die here in the Wilderness.”

Miram Ha Nevia
Miriam from the House of Levi
Soon will come to us
With timbrel and song
Miriam our prophetess
Will dance with us.

Charoset (Nuts and Apple Mixture)

In the Berkeley seder, the following was recited when participants dipped the maror (bitter herbs) into the charoset:

The charoset, a mixture of apples, nuts, wine and spice, represents the mixture of clay and straw from which we made bricks during our bondage. It also recalls to our mind the women of Israel who bore their children in secret beneath the apple trees of Egypt, and, like the apple tree that first produces fruit and then sprouts leaves to protect the fruit, our heroic mothers first bore children without any assurance of security or safety. This beautiful and militant devotion sweetened the misery of slavery. Even as we dip our bitter herbs into the charoset, the pattern of our celebration is the mixture of the bitter and the sweet, sadness and joy, of tales of shame that end in praise. And when we see the tragedy of our own time, we sweeten this bitter taste with the thought of the liberation that is to come.

Bread/Matzah and Roses

Before the blessing of Hamotzee on bread, a story about Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev was quoted from the Jewish Liberation Haggadah:

Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev discovered that the girls who kneaded the dough for the matzah drudged from early morning until late at night. Then he cried aloud to the congregation gathered in the House of Prayer: “Those who hate Israel accuse us of baking the unleavened bread with the blood of Christians. But no, we bake it with the blood of Jews I” The rabbi pronounced the matzah treif (unkosher) because it was produced through oshek, the oppression of workers.

The Berkeley haggadah included communal singing of “Bread and Roses,” a women’s union song written by James Oppenheim during the mill strikes of 1912.

As we come marching, marching,
unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing
their ancient song of bread
Small art and love and beauty
their drudging spirits knew
Yes, it’s bread that we fight for,
but we fight for roses, too!

Pour Out Your Wrath

Several haggadahs included memorials to the victims of the Holocaust and called attention to the women who fought in the Resistance. An entry from the Diary of Anne Frank was added by Judith Manelis, New Jersey, in The Jewish Family Haggadah. The Los Angeles haggadah includes a translation of Hirsh Click’s Partisan Song, written in memory of Vitke Kempner, who participated in the first attack on the Nazis by Vilna ghetto partisans:

… A woman, a jacket and a beret
Clutching a gun in her hand
A woman whose face is soft as velvet
Watched for the enemy’s caravan.

A truck came rumbling through the forest
She took aim and then she fired.
A truck full with ammunition
Was stopped with her own strength….

Nirtzah

The Nirtzah (conclusion of the seder) is generally the place where feminist seders stress the theme of sisterhood, as in the Flashperson/Sablove haggadah:

We hope that this evening’s seder has helped to strengthen our desire to gather together again to recall our past and present and to look to our future lives as women… as sisters.

“And Ruth said, ‘Entreat me not to leave thee and to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge….’” (The Book of Ruth)

Next Year in Jerusalem!

Several haggadahs inserted material here on Soviet Jewry and on the women of Israel. The Third Night Feminist Haggadah incorporated Hannah Senesh’s poem “We Gather Flowers” as an expression of Jewish sisterhood and love of Zion

We gathered flowers in the fields
and mountains,
We breathed the fresh winds of spring,
We were drenched with the warmth
of the sun’s rays
In our homeland, in our beloved home.

We go out to our sisters in exile,
To the suffering of winter,
to frost in the night.
Our hearts will bring tidings
of springtime,
Our lips sing the song of light.

The Passover section was compiled and, edited by Reena Sigman Friedmana graduate student in American Jewish History at Columbia University who is particularly interested in the history of Jewish women in America.